BLM advisor cries foul on oil shale EIS | AspenTimes.com

BLM advisor cries foul on oil shale EIS

Phillip Yates
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS ” The Bureau of Land Management’s Southwest Resource Advisory Council was not properly consulted during the drafting of a preliminary environmental impact statement about possible oil shale development, according to one member of the council.

Andrew Gulliford, who represents the environmental community and is vice chair of the Southwest RAC, said the BLM did not consult with the regional council before issuing its draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS), which designated about 2 million acres in Wyoming, Colorado and Utah as possible areas for oil shale drilling.

“We were out of the loop,” said Gulliford. “We are supposed to help as an interface with the public. This is a top-end decision that does not adequately reflect local concerns whatsoever. We should have been consulted from much earlier on.”

Gulliford was not speaking on behalf of the Southwest RAC.

Gulliford wrote “Boomtown Blues,” a book that chronicled the oil shale boom and bust of the 1980s in western Colorado. He is now a history professor at Fort Lewis College in Durango.

The Bureau of Land Management has three Resource Advisory Councils (RACs) in Colorado: the Northwest RAC, the Southwest RAC and the Front Range RAC. The councils advise the BLM on land-use matters and members are appointed through a public nomination process, according to the BLM.

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“We were not consulted on this at all,” Gulliford said of the drafting of the PEIS. “There was no communication from the state (BLM) director on down. The advisory councils have been ignored. That is not why Congress set them up.”

But David Boyd, northwest Colorado public affairs specialist for the BLM, said that had Southwest RAC members requested a presentation about the oil shale PEIS, the agency would have provided members with one and listened to the RAC’s concerns.

“We would have welcomed that,” Boyd said.

The Northwest RAC had meetings and presentations about oil shale leasing, regulations and the upcoming PEIS in the fall of 2006. The subject will also be on the agenda for the Northwest RAC’s Feb. 14 meeting, which is open to the public. Colorado lands that would be affected by oil shale development fall under the Northwest RAC’s purview, Boyd said.

“That is the reason why the Northwest RAC was so involved,” Boyd said.

Northwest RAC members felt that their comments about the matter would be most effective after the release of the PEIS, Boyd said.

Gulliford said all areas in Colorado will be affected by oil shale development because of the significant amount of water needed to pull the resource from the ground and its effects on hunting and agriculture.

Gulliford voiced concerns about what a possible ramp-up could have on the BLM bureaucracy and wondered if the agency would have enough staffing to cope with the work. He also expressed concern that the PEIS didn’t look into the “economic impacts to existing economies” oil shale development could impose.

“This will fundamentally and irrevocably change the Western Slope,” Gulliford said. “I am afraid that the Western Slope is going to become the nation’s sacrifice zone in this push for American energy independence.”

Larry McCown, a member of the BLM’s Northwest Resource Advisory Council and Garfield County commissioner, said the BLM didn’t consult with the council during its creation of the draft environmental impact statement, which was done by an outside company. But McCown said there “were plenty of opportunities to comment on it if one wanted to.”

McCown called the PEIS a “fairly innocuous study.”

“Now that the PEIS is out we will comment on it and make recommendations,” McCown said.

The advisory councils are unique to the BLM; they don’t exist in the U.S. Forest Service or the U.S. Park Service hierarchy., The groups provide the BLM with input about land-use matters from residents representing diverse interests, including grazing, recreation and the environment.

Friday was the beginning of a 90-day public comment period on the BLM document.

pyates@postindependent.com